Are you a lark or an owl? Larks are the early-to-bed, early-to-rise types: They tend to feel more energized and focused early in the day and enjoy turning in early. Owls, on the other hand, don’t really hit their stride until later in the day. Left to their own devices, they are happy to stay up until the wee hours and then sleep the morning away.
The tendency to be a night owl or an early bird isn’t something that we have a lot of control over. Although lifestyle, culture, and habit can certainly play a role in when you get up and go to bed, the tendency toward “morningness” or “eveningness” (as it’s called in the medical literature) is largely a genetic predisposition.
Unfortunately for the night owls, our society seems to have been scheduled by the early birds. Standard school and business hours generally start just a few hours after sun up—and several hours before your typical night owl wants to be up and about. As a result, night owls tend to get less sleep than early birds, and suffer from all of the health risks that go along with that.
If you have strong owl tendencies, arranging your schedule so that you can work later in the day might make your life a lot easier. However, there are a couple of other things you may want to watch out for, as well.
How Your Sleep Patterns Affect your Eating Patterns
Not surprisingly, night owls tend to consume more of their calories later in the day. A night owl , for example, typically eats about 20% of their calories after 8pm. As I talked about in a recent episode, this eating pattern has been associated with an increased risk of obesity and heart disease.
In addition, night owls tend to choose less healthy foods than their early bird counterparts. A recent study of about 2,000 healthy adults between the ages of 24 and 74 sorted subjects into night owls and early birds and then compared their diets.
Interestingly, both groups took in almost exactly the same number of calories overall, even though the night owls consumed their calories later in the day. However, the night owls ate less protein and took in more sugar, fat, and alcohol. Night owls also tend to have less regular eating schedules (especially on weekends) and to eat more frequently throughout the day.
The night owls ate less protein and took in more sugar, fat, and alcohol.
Some of this may simply be due to lifestyle. Because adults tend to consume alcohol in the evening, those who stay up longer may end up drinking more. Night owls may also eat more meals away from home, and restaurant meals tend to be higher in fat and sugar than meals consumed at home.
But the tendency to choose foods that are higher in fat and sugar may also be the body’s attempt to compensate for an out-of-sync circadian rhythm or simple fatigue. Night owls may have lower serotonin levels, for example. And low serotonin levels can trigger cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods.
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool night owl, changing your daily rhythm may not be possible. But borrowing a couple of habits from the early birds could help you stay healthier.
Keep reading for a few tips especially for night owls.
Even if you don’t eat a lot for breakfast or don’t eat your first meal until later in the day, try to make sure it contains a decent amount of protein and not too much sugar.
Exposure to bright sunlight or a light box as soon as you get up in the morning can help increase serotonin levels throughout the day, which may decrease your cravings for unhealthy foods. At the other end of the day, you want to avoid the blue light emitted from phones, tablets, and other electronic devices in the evening. Blue light suppresses your natural melatonin production in the evening, which can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Night owls consume twice as much alcohol, on average, as early birds.
Watch the alcohol. Night owls consume twice as much alcohol, on average, as early birds. Not only does higher alcohol consumption lead to health and safety risks but it’s also associated with decreased nutrient intakes and overall diet quality. If a greater percentage of your calories are coming from alcohol, you have fewer opportunities to meet your nutrient needs. Putting on a buzz can also lead you to over-indulge in foods that you might not choose with a clearer head. Even if you’re up late, try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than 7 drinks a week—preferably not all on the same night!
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.